What do we learn about relationships from our families? Everything.
Lauren and Max came to see us after Max discovered Lauren’s affair. She was remorseful and said she wanted their marriage to work. Max was willing to work on forgiving Lauren but knew they needed help. He thought he was a loving husband and had no idea why Lauren would cheat.
In taking her history, we learned that Lauren grew up with a father who was very critical. In his quest for Lauren to succeed, he set very high standards for her. Instead of this motivating her, Lauren felt nothing was ever good enough. She struggled in school, and in third grade was diagnosed with dyslexia. Despite this, her father never let up. As Lauren got older, she started cheating on tests to get a better grade and win her dad’s approval. Since he never accepted her disability, the only way she was able to meet his standards was to lie. She never felt loved for who she genuinely was.
We talked about the impact of her childhood experience and related it to how she connected in her marriage. She never felt she was good enough for Max and often said he could have found someone better. Lauren had trouble being authentic in the relationship and only told Max what would please him. She hid her unhappiness and the fact that her needs for emotional love and connection weren’t being met. The only way she knew how to meet her needs was to cheat, just like when she was younger.
For better or worse, the relationships we experience and witness in our vulnerable years, teach us how to communicate; how to connect and love; how to be intimate; how to cope with conflict and whether to trust.
The family we grow up in (our family of origin) has a profound effect upon how we will relate to our partners. It is vital to a healthy relationship to dig down and think about what you learned from your parents and to be aware that you don’t have to respond the same way in your partnership.
In therapy, Lauren learned that she could get her needs met from Max by speaking up assertively. And she learned that she was trying too hard to get him to love and approve of her. When Lauren began trusting Max, she realized that he loved her for who she was and that she didn’t have to lie to appear “good enough” for him.
How have your childhood experiences affected you in your relationship?